Challenging the Long-Held Story of Human Evolution

Issue Date: 
September 30, 2013

Pitt offers lecture series with world-renowned anthropologists on new theories about human evolution

The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Anthropology is sponsoring a three-part lecture series, called Mysteries of Human Evolution, which will feature world-renowned anthropologists whose research and discoveries challenge the long-held story of human evolution.

Modern-day thinking about evolution has held that man’s evolutionary history comprises a continuum of transformation from one wildly variable species into the next. But recent findings in Indonesia, China, and the Republic of Georgia raise the specter that species diversity characterized the human lineage.

The three lectures will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday evenings in the Frick Fine Arts Building Auditorium, 650 Schenley Drive, Oakland. The series is free and open to the public. The lecture topics and presenters follow.

Oct. 1

“Fossil ‘Hobbits,’ Homo sapiens, and the Politics of Paleoanthropology”

Dean FalkDean Falk is an evolutionary anthropologist who is both a senior scholar at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, N.M., and the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. She participates in collaborative brain studies of the “Hobbit,” a specimen whose bones and skull were found in a cave on an Indonesian island. Falk has also done work on the role of women and children in evolution, as detailed in her book Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants & the Origins of Language (Basic Books, 2009). In addition, her experiences as a woman in the traditional male field of paleoanthropology spurred her to write her most recent book, The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution (University of California Press, 2012).

Oct. 22

“Fossils Reveal New Species of Late-Occurring Human in China: Did Our Species Kill It Off?”

Darren CurnoeDarren Curnoe is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Archaeology and an associate professor of evolutionary biology in the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Curnoe maintains that recent discoveries on the continent of Asia raise the possibility of new human evolutionary lines. He cites the 2004 finding of the Homo floresiensis, or the “hobbit,” on the Indonesian island of Flores, the 2010 extraction of DNA from a new kind of human specimen found in Denisova Cave in central Asia, and the 2012 discovery of what has become known as the Red Deer Cave people from southwest China. 

Nov. 12

“The First Representatives of Homo Out of Africa”

David LordkipanidzeDavid Lordkipanidze, director general of the Georgian National Museum, is an anthropologist and archaeologist from the Republic of Georgia in Russia. He is best known for leading an excavation at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia and finding skulls of an early hominin, or a human ancestor, that some believe may be a precursor of Homo erectus. The discovery raised the possibility that Homo erectus may have evolved in Eurasia and migrated back to Africa. 

Other sponsors of the lecture series include Pitt’s University Honors College, Asian Studies Center, Humanities Center, and the Center for Russian and East European Studies.